Chicago vs. Jacksonville: Bears Preseason Week 2 Game Preview

Matt EurichAnalyst IAugust 13, 2014

Chicago vs. Jacksonville: Bears Preseason Week 2 Game Preview

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    Stephen Morton/Associated Press

    Fresh off a 34-28 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles last Friday night in their preseason opener, the Chicago Bears will welcome the Jacksonville Jaguars to Soldier Field this Thursday night.

    The Jaguars defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last Friday night 16-10 in their preseason opener.

    Thursday's meeting between Chicago and Jacksonville will be just the second time the two have faced each other in the preseason, the first being in 2002 at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Illinois, while Soldier Field was under construction. The Jaguars came away with a 24-16 victory.

    Chicago quarterbacks Jay Cutler, Jordan Palmer, Jimmy Clausen and David Fales combined to go 29 of 44 for 399 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions, and the competition between Palmer and Clausen to determine Cutler's backup will continue.

    "I like the way [Palmer] brought the team back," head coach Marc Trestman said to the media, via Andrew Seligman of The Associated Press.

    He continued:

    He came back and moved the football team. And the same thing with [Clausen]. I thought he moved the football team, was poised for a guy who's been here so little time. I think we saw something there, as well, so that competition continues.

    While the Bears would like to get another victory on Thursday night, the biggest hope will be that the team comes out of the game without injury and that the coaching staff can better evaluate some of its toughest position battles, such as the backup quarterback position. 

    Here is our Chicago vs. Jacksonville preseason Week 2 preview.

Chicago Bears Preseason Week 1 Recap

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    After months of waiting, the 2014 preseason finally kicked off for the Chicago Bears last Friday night.

    The team came away with a 34-28 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, and it will look to build off its strong showings on offense and defense.

    The offense amassed 491 yards, including 399 yards through the air.

    Quarterbacks Jay Cutler and Jimmy Clausen looked the most comfortable in the pocket, while Jordan Palmer and David Fales at times looked distressed in the pocket.

    It is unknown how much playing time Cutler will see, meaning Clausen and Palmer will likely once again get the majority of reps as they battle to be the team's No. 2 quarterback this season.

    Along with the solid production at quarterback, the tight end position, despite not having Martellus Bennett, had a productive night in the opener.

    Zach Miller made the most of his opportunities, hauling in six catches for 68 yards and two touchdowns. Backups Dante Rosario and Jeron Mastrud both finished the game with two catches apiece.

    Miller, Rosario and Mastrud should all get more opportunities this Thursday to prove themselves, but Bennett returned to practice earlier this week and will likely garner most of the first-team reps, via Jeremy Stoltz of BearReport:

    #Bears TE Martellus Bennett back from suspension and practicing today

    — Jeremy Stoltz (@BearReport) August 10, 2014

    After retooling the defense in the offseason, general manager Phil Emery's new additions looked to pay early dividends on Friday night.

    The team allowed 283 yards through the air, and more importantly, it allowed just 73 yards rushing on the night.

    While it is difficult to put too much stock into one preseason game, the defensive line looked much improved from a year ago.

    New additions Lamarr Houston and Willie Young both created pressure from the defensive end position, while Jeremiah Ratliff looked rejuvenated at defensive tackle.

    The team's secondary picked off Eagles quarterbacks three times and played well against the team's wide receiver corps.  

    The big question mark heading into Thursday's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars will be how linebackers Shea McClellin and Jon Bostic can bounce back from poor outings Friday night. 

News and Notes

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Chris Conte Is out to Prove People Wrong

    After missing all of the offseason due to shoulder surgery, safety Chris Conte finally got back onto the practice fields this past Sunday, via Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune:

    Bears safety Chris Conte (right shoulder) is practicing this afternoon, so he has been removed from the PUP list. Same with S Craig Steltz.

    — Rich Campbell (@Rich_Campbell) August 10, 2014

    Conte was one of the team's most highly criticized players last season as he struggled in pass coverage and was even worse against the run.

    He is best known for allowing a Randall Cobb touchdown in Week 17 against the Green Bay Packers, which ended the team's chances to make it to the playoffs.

    Conte is aware that he has many doubters, but he is ready to prove them wrong, via NBCChicago.com's Peggy Kusinski:

    #Bears Chris Conte is working his way back says "I have a lot of people to prove wrong"

    — Peggy Kusinski (@peggykusinski) August 10, 2014

    It is unknown how much, if any, playing time he will receive on Thursday night, but head coach Marc Trestman is hopeful Conte can get on the field, via team sideline reporter Zach Zaidman:

    Trestman on if Conte can play Thursday: "I'm hoping he can."

    — Zach Zaidman (@ZachZaidman) August 12, 2014

    If he does get on the field Thursday night, he will finally get the chance to try and prove all of his doubters wrong. 

     

    Special Teams Needs to Show Improvement

    Special teams units in the NFL are in a constant state of turnover with coaches trying to get the most out of the bottom half of the roster.

    In his first year with the team last season, special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis saw his unit struggle in all phases of special teams. Despite all the additions the team has made this offseason, its showing on Friday night against the Eagles did not sit well with DeCamillis.

    “I took away we didn’t play very well,” DeCamillis said to media about his unit's performance, per Adam L. Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times. “We had a lot of miscues. It’s disappointing.”

    The special teams unit allowed a 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by the Eagles' Josh Huff prior to the end of the first half, Robbie Gould had a 41-yard field-goal attempt blocked and Micheal Spurlock muffed a punt.

    Moving forward through the preseason, DeCamillis expects more from his unit. 

    “We need to see the guys who are going to play on Sundays, and that’s our goal going forward and especially the third preseason game,” he said, via Jahns. “We got to see those guys, and they have to play together as a unit.”

    After its shaky start Friday night, DeCamillis will look for his unit to show improvement Thursday against the Jaguars. 

     

    Defense Looks Improved

    While it was a small sample size, the Bears defense looked much better Friday night against the Eagles than it did at times last season.

    General manager Phil Emery made a point to improve his defense this offseason, and it appears his new additions are paying off.

    Three of his biggest offseason signings, Ryan Mundy, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young, all made an impact against Philadelphia.

    Mundy intercepted quarterback Nick Foles early in the first quarter, due in large part to the pressure that Houston and Young forced.

    Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker explained how important getting pressure on the quarterback, combined with Chicago's secondary play, is going to be for his defense, telling Larry Mayer of ChicagoBears.com:

    It was encouraging because the guys have worked very hard in practice with the pass rush and the pass rush lanes in making sure that we’re coordinated and that we get second and third efforts in the rush and that we affect the quarterback. We’ve worked really hard to make sure that we got sufficient-to-good coverage behind us so the rush and coverage can work together. I think we saw an element of that come together in the first game.

    In a limited sample size, the defense was able to cohesively work as a unit on Friday night, and Mundy's interception was the perfect example of that.

    If the team can continue to get pressure up front, combined with strong play from the cornerbacks and safeties, it should be able to improve a defense that finished 30th overall in yards per game last season.

Injury Report

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

     


    Player
    PositionInjury Status
    Brian de la PuenteOLOut
    Eben BrittonOLOut
    Marquess WilsonWROut
    Isaiah FreyCBN/A
    Jordan MillsOLN/A
    Chris WilliamsWROut
    Kyle LongOLN/A

    *All injury statuses from Dan Wiederer of the Chicago Tribune and ESPN.com's Michael C. Wright.

     

    One thing that all NFL coaches want to take away from preseason games is healthy players. Unfortunately for the Bears, two players did not make it out of last Friday's preseason opener against the Philadelphia Eagles unscathed.

    Offensive lineman Brian de la Puente is expected to be out for an extended period of time with an MCL sprain he suffered Friday night, via Adam L. Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times

    Along with de la Puente, veteran tackle Eben Britton has been on the shelf because of a hamstring injury he suffered earlier in training camp, and starting right tackle Jordan Mills has not practiced this week and was seen wearing a walking boot, via the Chicago Sun-Times' Adam Jahns:

    With all three injured, the team brought in veteran offensive lineman Rob Turner earlier this week, via team sideline reporter Zach Zaidman

    Expect Turner and guard/tackle Michael Ola to get their fair share of reps this Thursday night against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

    After missing the early portion of training camp because of a viral infection, right guard Kyle Long returned to practice earlier this week after suffering a minor ankle injury last week, via Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune:

    Long's status for Thursday night remains in question.
    Wide receiver Marquess Wilson broke his clavicle earlier in training camp, and Chris Williams pulled a hamstring in the preseason opener, giving guys like Josh Morgan, Eric Weems and Josh Bellamy more opportunities to fight for the team's No. 3 wide receiver spot.

X-Factors and Matchups to Watch

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Luke Joeckel vs. Jared Allen

    The second overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft, Luke Joeckel played just five games last season before an ankle injury ended his rookie campaign.

    He began last season as the team's right tackle before moving over to the left side prior to his injury. He has mentioned this offseason how important going up against veteran Chris Clemons in practice has been for his growth this offseason.

    “The best thing for my growth is going against a great pass-rusher like that every day in practice,” Joeckel said in regard to Clemons, via Vito Stellino of Jacksonville.com.

    While Clemons' 58 career sacks are nothing to scoff at, Joeckel will be facing a much more difficult task on Thursday night against Jared Allen.

    Allen is set to make his Chicago debut after not playing in the team's first preseason game following the birth of his child.

    Allen has amassed 128.5 sacks in his 10 NFL seasons and should get a series or two against Joeckel Thursday night.

    There is little Allen needs to prove, but it will be a matchup to watch as Bears fans will get their first real look at their new defensive end. 

     

    Blake Bortles vs. Chicago's Safeties

    After years of suffering through the poor quarterback play of former first-round pick Blaine Gabbert, the Jaguars used their third overall pick in the 2014 draft to select quarterback Blake Bortles.

    Chad Henne started the team's preseason opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but Bortles stole the show, going 7-of-11 through the air for 117 yards with no interceptions, and caught the eye of Albert Breer of the NFL Network:

    A little behind on Red Zone ... But man, Blake Bortles looks the part. Fundamentally better, too Good, quick work by coaches.

    — Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) August 9, 2014

    When asked if Bortles could see some time with the first-team offense against the Bears, head coach Gus Bradley shot down the idea.

    “I wouldn’t count on it this week,” Bradley told reporters, via Jackonsville.com's Hays Carlyon.

    With Bortles expected to receive reps with the second team, a number of combinations in the Bears secondary should have an opportunity to square off against him.

    The team started its preseason opener with Ryan Mundy and Danny McCray at the strong and free safety positions, while Adrian Wilson and Brock Vereen received playing time with the second unit.

    The safety competition will become even tougher now that Chris Conte and Craig Steltz have returned to practice, via the team's sideline reporter, Zach Zaidman:

    Chris Conte and Craig Steltz practicing for first time in this training camp. #Bears not in full pads today.

    — Zach Zaidman (@ZachZaidman) August 10, 2014

    Regardless of who is out on the field when Bortles gets his opportunity, those safeties will have a chance to prove their worth to the team going up against a guy fighting for a starting job.

     

    Shea McClellin and Jon Bostic vs. Marcedes Lewis

    After struggling to find his way as a defensive end, the Chicago Bears decided to move 2012 first-round pick Shea McClellin to linebacker this offseason. 

    With the move, McClellin has been competing with second-year man Jon Bostic at the strong-side linebacker position.

    Both received ample playing time last Friday against the Philadelphia Eagles, but, according to Bleacher Report's Matt Bowen, both struggled in pass coverage:

    Rough series for the Bears LBs...Bostic beat on the inside seam in Cover 2; McClellin can't match the stick-out in the red zone.

    — Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) August 9, 2014

    McClellin and Bostic both struggled against athletic Eagles tight end Zach Ertz and will get another opportunity to match up against an athletic tight end in Marcedes Lewis.

    Lewis combines size and speed and will be a good test for both linebackers, particularly in the red zone.

     

    Bears' X-Factor of the Week: Jimmy Clausen

    Despite being listed as the team's third quarterback on the depth chart, Jimmy Clausen impressed Friday night against the Philadelphia Eagles, via Bleacher Report's Matt Bowen:

    Jimmy Clausen should see some reps with the 2s next week after his production tonight. #Bears

    — Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) August 9, 2014

    After going 7-of-13 for 150 yards and two touchdowns on Friday, head coach Marc Trestman announced after Tuesday's practice that Clausen will be the first quarterback off the bench Thursday night against the Jaguars, via ESPNChicago.com's Jeff Dickerson:

    Jimmy Clausen will enter the game at QB after Jay Cutler on Thursday, according to Marc Trestman.

    — Jeff Dickerson (@ESPNChiBears) August 12, 2014

    Prior to Clausen's Bears debut, Trestman was excited to see him in action after his strong showing so far in training camp.

    “I’m excited to see him just like we all are,” Trestman said to the media about Clausen, via Larry Mayer of ChicagoBears.com. “He’s had a good camp. He’s picked up the system very quickly. He’s throwing the ball well overall."

    He proved against the Eagles that he is comfortable in Trestman's system, and with a strong showing on Thursday night, he just may solidify himself as the team's No. 2 quarterback.

Prediction

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Now that one preseason game is in the books, the Bears will look to increase the reps of their starters against the Jacksonville Jaguars Thursday night.

    While the starters won't likely play more than the first quarter at most, it will give fans and the coaching staff a better look at what their team is going to look like in 2014.

    After failing to get much of a running game going in the preseason opener, expect the offense to try and get more carries for running backs Matt Forte, Ka'Deem Carey, Shaun Draughn, Michael Ford, Senorise Perry and Jordan Lynch.

    Beyond seeing what Jay Cutler can do, most of the attention at the quarterback position will be focused on Jimmy Clausen and Jordan Palmer. Palmer was the first quarterback off the bench Friday night, but head coach Marc Trestman announced after practice Tuesday that Clausen will get that opportunity against Jacksonville, via team sideline reporter Zach Zaidman:

    Trestman says Clausen will relieve Cutler first on Thursday vs. Jaguars, but Palmer will also play for #Bears

    — Zach Zaidman (@ZachZaidman) August 12, 2014

    The Jaguars secondary is full of young, inexperienced players like safety Winston Guy and cornerback Dwayne Gratz, which should give the Bears quarterbacks an opportunity to match the numbers they put up Friday against the Eagles. 

    On the defensive side of the ball, Bears fans should expect to see Jared Allen on the field Thursday night, as he returned to the practice fields this past Sunday after missing time due to the birth of his child, via ESPNChicago.com's Jeff Dickerson:

    Jared Allen also practicing on Sunday. #Bears

    — Jeff Dickerson (@ESPNChiBears) August 10, 2014

    Along with Allen's debut, a lot of focus will be placed on linebackers Shea McClellin and Jon Bostic after their shaky start last Friday. If they struggle, it will be interesting to see how much playing time second-year man Khaseem Greene sees with the second unit.

    It is never easy to predict how a preseason game is going to go, but expect the Bears offense to continue to put up points Thursday night against the Jaguars at Soldier Field.

    Prediction: Bears 30, Jaguars 17

     

    All training camp observations obtained firsthand by the author unless otherwise noted. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Chicago Bears or NFL.com.

    Matt Eurich is an NFL/Chicago Bears Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.

    Follow @MattEurich